Conditioning, Never Cardio.
Cardio is mostly a waste of time. But conditioning can help you perform better and get super lean. You need to know the difference and how to train effectively.
My first problem with the way most people do cardio is that it’s too easy.
Mr Example hits the treadmill and runs for 40 minutes a few times per week. It makes him feel like he's doing something, maybe he even enjoys it (although its definitely not for me). I am willing to bet good money, and many respected coaches I'm sure would join me in this, that he does not work hard for 40 minutes. My triathlete ran a 10k time trial recently. It took 33 minutes, his average heart rate was 198 bpm and he told me that if I had actually been there, he would have thrown me in the lake for making him do it, as it was so awful. (I guess he means after he scraped himself off the floor). My point being that if a world class athlete in an endurance sport fears his conditioning and works that hard for 33 minutes, how come you feel like doing spin after your treadmill session? answer; YOU ARE NOT WORKING HARD. End of discussion.
My second problem with “cardio” is that it’s not progressive and specific.
When we have clients incorporate conditioning into their workouts, progression and working hard are the name of the game. Over six weeks, the client will work progressively harder. Maybe by reducing rest, maybe by lengthening the work periods or maybe by adding volume. Either way they will work harder at the end of the six weeks than they did at the start.
When most people do their version of "cardio" they do not progress. They run at the same speed for the same amount of time for weeks on end. Usually they track nothing, therefore having no clue whether they’re making progress or not. This produces some moderate results to start with, then quickly becomes maintenance at best.
When I have this discussion with clients or other coaches I often get a very intelligent answer: "I know that, I do intervals". Really? I see intervals all the time, frankly I am not impressed. Let me be clear. What most of you call intervals are a marginal improvement on steady state cardio, especially if you do them by yourself (as opposed to with a good coach). In interval training, your work period should be very hard. How many of you actually work VERY hard in your intervals? If you just answered "yes, I do"! then allow me to be very clear: Working hard during intervals means that at the end of your work period you feel as though your heart is trying to escape out of your mouth. Still think you really work hard? If the answer is yes then you are either one of the few, in which case kudos! Or you need an awakening as to what intensity actually is.
We recently had a female client who thought she did pretty well during her interval sessions outside her PT sessions. I felt she needed to redefine her interpretation of interval training so I invited her to come down and try some repeats with us.
Very simple protocol; 800m, 4 repeats, full 4 min recovery in between bouts doing NOTHING, not jogging at a steady pace. She died doing those runs (not literally). When finished, red faced and nauseous, she said she had never worked that hard during intervals and now understood what we meant by HIGH INTENSITY interval training. Too right!
Take a trip down to any athletics club and watch the 800m or 400m runners train. When they run repeats they do not jog at a gentle pace between runs. They sprint, hard, then stop, recover, and go hard again. This is conditioning, not that bullshit you've been doing.
So my position on cardio is this:
If my full time athletes fear 20-30 minute conditioning sessions, if thats enough for them to get results, I see no reason you should be any different.
Work HARD, recover, repeat. This system is by far superior to cardio and we call it conditioning.
If you wish to supplement that work with exercise for enjoyment, be my guest and go right ahead, it's way better than sitting on the couch all Saturday. Just don't try to convince me you're training when you do it.